The furry members of first families
Who will forget the moment on Election Night 2008 when President-Elect Barack Obama turned to address his daughters: “Sasha and Malia, I love you more than you can imagine, and you have earned that puppy that is coming with us to the White House.”
Bo arrived the following April and won the hearts of the public through photos of him romping with the family on the White House lawn.
For Americans, a pet in the White House humanizes the first family. From a first family’s point of view, perhaps having a pet around the White House makes it a little easier to adapt to life in a public fishbowl.
As this November heats up with presidential excitement, here’s a look at some of the most memorable White House pets.
A Very Beloved Dog
No dog before or after Warren Harding’s received as much press coverage as did Laddie Boy. The six-month-old puppy came to the White House the day after Harding’s inauguration in 1921. Harding had asked that he be notified immediately of the Airedale’s arrival, and indeed, a Cabinet meeting was interrupted so that Harding could see his new pup.
Laddie Boy participated in the family’s “photo op” events such as the Easter Egg Roll. He also had his own chair for Cabinet meetings. On Laddie Boy’s first birthday, the press corps was given full access to the first dog and his dog-biscuit cake.
In July 1923 the Hardings were traveling in the West when Harding became ill and died. Upon her return to Washington, Mrs. Harding wanted to reward Secret Service agent Harry L. Barker for his kindnesses to the couple, and suggested that Barker should have Laddie Boy. Laddie Boy lived out the rest of his life with the Barker family.
FDR’s Scottie, Fala
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier, Fala, was a constant presence in FDR’s life. The Secret Service referred to Fala as “The Informer”—when taken out for an airing, Fala was a dead giveaway that the president was nearby.
During the war when so many things were rationed, Fala was photographed surrounded by his rubber dog toys. Fala was donating them so that the rubber could go to war needs.
And of course, many people have heard the story about how Fala was left in the Aleutian Islands after a presidential stop, and a destroyer was supposed to have gone back to pick him up. FDR used the story in a marvelous campaign speech in 1944; he denied that Fala had been left behind, and noted to his Teamster audience that it “offended Fala’s Scotch blood” to think that such a wasteful thing would be done. The audience loved the story—and loved Fala, too.
The Bush Dogs
George H.W. Bush and wife, Barbara, brought with them their Springer Spaniel, Millie. Millie had at least one litter of puppies, and one of the dogs, Spot, was given to George and Laura Bush, who would eventually bring him back to the White House. This was the first time the country had a second-generation first dog.
In addition to giving birth to a future first dog, Millie also wrote a book (Barbara helped). The money raised from the book was donated to organizations to promote literacy.
When George W. Bush and wife Laura moved into the White House, they brought with them Spot, then age 11, and Barney, a young Scottie. Barney even had his own website, and each year at holiday time the family would release a through-Barney’s-eyes video (camera attached to his collar) of life at the White House.
First Families with Many Pets
Calvin and Grace Coolidge had several dogs. When a live raccoon was brought to the White House to be served for Thanksgiving dinner (The 1920s were a very different time in our country!), Grace would not hear of it. She had a pen built in the yard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue so that Rebecca the raccoon could live out her life there. The Coolidges also tried raising ducks in a White House bathroom—which didn’t work out so well—so they donated them to the Washington Zoo.
During his term of office, from 1901-1909, Teddy Roosevelt had many pets: dogs, cats, ponies, a pig, a badger, guinea pigs, a zebra, a barn owl, and a raccoon. One of the best stories about a Roosevelt pet involved their pony, Algonquin. One of Roosevelt’s sons, Archie, was sick. His brothers wanted to cheer him up so they helped Algonquin get into the White House elevator and took him up to Archie’s room. The children were delighted, and it made for an eventful day.
Dogs (and raccoons) aren’t the only furry creatures to have taken residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Here’s a look at some of the cats who have called the White House home:
Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad brought with him a cat named Tabby, who was the very first presidential feline. Lincoln allegedly enjoyed feeding Tabby with a gold fork at White House dinners. Honest Abe was also a compassionate animal rescuer: He once saved three nearly-frozen kittens from an abandoned Civil War battleground hut and kept them until he found them new homes.
Rutherford Hayes had three cats: Siam, Piccolomini, and Miss Pussy. Siam was the first Siamese cat to enter the United States—a U.S. diplomat living in Bangkok sent her as a gift to the Hayes family in 1878.
Theodore Roosevelt’s children loved having their cats—Tom Quartz and the six-toed Slippers—around. Slippers often fell asleep sprawled out in the White House hallways. Instead of waking her, Roosevelt insisted guests just walk around her.
Woodrow Wilson may have regretted bringing Mittens and Puffins with him to the White House—he could never quite get them to stop leaping up onto the dining room table to partake in family feasts.
Despite being allergic to cats, John F. Kennedy let his daughter Caroline bring Tom Kitten to live with them while he was in office. When Tom Kitten passed away, he had his very own obituary in a Washington newspaper.
Socks was a rescued stray, commonly referred to by former president Bill Clinton as “Chief Executive Cat.” She had an official page on the White House website, her own inbox for fan mail, and was featured on a set of stamps issued by the Central African Republic. She also had a well-documented feud with the Clinton family’s dog Buddy.